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Doc. 101.-General Potter's expedition

Through North-Carolina, July, 1863.

Newbern, N. C., July 23, 1863.
the present expedition being on a grander and more responsible scale than any that had preceded it, Major-General foster concluded to confide its chief direction to an officer of higher rank than Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, and selected his Chief of Staff, General Potter, for that purpose. Colonel Lewis retained the immediate command of the cavalry force. General Potter was accompanied by captain Gouraud, Lieutenant farquhar, and Lieutenant Myers, Chief of Ordnance of Major-General foster's staff, all of whom have seen active service in North-Carolina.

Early on Saturday morning, the eighteenth instant, orders were received for the cavalry to get in readiness to start on the expedition. Every man leaped into his saddle with alacrity, and the column went across the Neuse to Fort Anderson without incident. The cavalry and artillery at this time consisted of the following:

Twelve companies of the Third New-York cavalry, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, Lieutenant Nourse Acting Adjutant.

One company (L) North-Carolina Union cavary, Lieutenant Graham commanding.

Three companies (A, B, and F) Twelfth New York cavalry, Major Clarkson commanding.

Two companies (A and B) of what is called Mix's new New-York regiment.

Four mountain howitzers, commanded by Lieutenants Allis and Clark.

The cavalry force was divided into three detachments. The first detachment was under the command of Major Cole, of the Third; the second under Major Clarkson, of the Twelfth; and the third under Major Jacobs, of the Third--the whole under Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis, with General Potter as chief.

About half-past 11 o'clock on the morning of the eighteenth, the cavalry moved forward in splendid order in the direction of Swift Creek. The enemy's pickets were not near the creek; but they took to their boats and hurried across, giving our men a volley from their muskets as they left, but doing no injury. Reaching the creek, without further molestation, although it was known that a force of at least four hundred rebels were encamped in the vicinity but a short time before, our men bivouacked for the night, videttes being thrown out to guard against surprise.

On Sunday morning, the nineteenth, at day-break, orders were received from General Potter, to prepare to move, and in a brief time the men commenced moving with their usual alacrity. They had proceeded as far as a place which was known as “The Chapel,” when they encountered, or rather surprised, a rebel picket-guard, consisting of one company of Whitford's men, under Captain White. Upon the approach of our men, the rebels stood gaping with wonder, apparently [355] not knowing whether we were friends or enemies; but a peremptory demand to “surrender” brought them to their senses, and off they attempted to scamper. About fifteen were captured, and one man who was making hasty tracks through the woods, refusing to obey the command to halt and surrender, was brought down by one of our carbineers, who put a bullet through his thigh. We not wishing to be encumbered with any prisoners at this stage of the expedition, General Potter ordered the captives to be paroled, which was accordingly done.

This over, General Potter proceeded at once toward the town of Greenville, a place noted as of much consequence as a rebel stronghold during the protracted siege of Washington, and, taking the Kinston fork of the cross-roads between Washington and Greenville, he reached Greenville about three o'clock in the afternoon.

No one having apparently warned the people or the guard, if any, of our approach, no preparations were found to be made for our reception. The place was strongly fortified; but the defences had been abandoned by all save a few cavalrymen, who appeared to be detained to act more as messengers or couriers than as scouts or videttes.

Finding the intrenchments and breastworks undefended, General Potter dashed at once into the town, and took possession of the post-office and other public buildings, seizing the mails, and destroying such government matter as could not be conveniently carried away. A few prisoners were made and paroled. Some large guns, intended for use in the defences of the place, were spiked, a number of small arms thrown into the river, and some damage done to the enemy's works. The day being a quiet Sabbath, and the rebel troops having been all withdrawn, the amazement of the inhabitants of this pretty village at the sudden advent of so formidable a cavalry host as ours may be imagined. They threw no obstructions in the way of the officers executing the orders of General Potter; on the contrary, they either pretended to lend assistance or acted as if stupefied.

Having done every thing to cripple the enemy that the usages of war allowed, and refrained as much as possible from disturbing private property, or alarming peaceably disposed inhabitants, General Potter, about five o'clock in the afternoon, issued orders to start forward on the line of march, which proved to be on the road leading to the little village of Sparta, which lay in a northerly direction, about eighteen miles from Greenville, and some eight or ten miles south of Tarboro. This place was reached in the night, and here General Potter bivouacked.

About this time it is presumed the enemy had obtained some information of our advance, and that our intentions were to at once visit Tarboro, being in such close proximity to that place. But instead of proceeding directly to Tarboro, General Potter ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis to detail a detachment of his cavalry to take another <*>oad and pounce upon Rocky Mount — a most important point on the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad-before the enemy there had any expectation of our approach. Major Jacobs's detachment of the Third was detailed for this important service, upon the result of which depended the success or defeat of the great objects of the expedition. Proud of having so fair an opportunity to distinguish himself, this young and judicious officer proceeded with his detachment, by a new and hitherto untried route, across ditches, through swamps, and through creeks and larger streams, and over bridges none the better for age and rottenness, until he came in sight of the desired place of destination, the main force meanwhile remaining for a time near Sparta, and keeping within eyesight distance of any movement of the enemy in the direction of Tarboro, but soon after advancing on the town with such effect as shall presently be seen.

Major Jacobs's only artillery force was one howitzer, under Allis, and yet with that and his heroic detachment of troops he committed a greater amount of destruction, and such as will be regarded by the rebels themselves as more deplorable and ruinous to them, than any that has been inflicted upon them in the State of North-Carolina during the war.

With a dash and daring uneclipsed by any cavalry raid directed for similar purpose against the enemy during the war, Major Jacobs destroyed and laid in ruins the costly structure known as the Rocky Mount railroad bridge over Tar River, on the line of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, and the connecting link, by this route, of Richmond with Wilmington and the far South. The bridge was the most expensive to construct in the State, and was over four hundred feet long. It will take weeks, perhaps months, to reconstruct and to rebuild the trestle-work also destroyed. The demolition of this bridge has long been an object kept in view by the general commanding the department, and now it has been accomplished, a much-coveted desideratum has been reached.

Major Jacobs destroyed the finest cotton-mill in the State-one used for the manufacture of rebel army cloth, and employing some two hundred hands, mostly girls. About five hundred bales of cotton were also destroyed.

He destroyed a rebel quartermaster's train, containing a large amount of stores for the rebel army. When Major Jacobs destroyed the cotton factory he said to the girls who had been employed in it, “Girls, I am sorry to throw you out of work; but,” he continued, pointing to a rich store of rebel provisions, “go there and help yourselves.” The suggestion was immediately improved by many. Major Jacobs destroyed a railroad train of thirty cars, all loaded with ammunition, etc. The train had just been sent up from Tarboro for safety, and was in motion, backing out, when Jacobs ordered its capture. Private White, of company A, Third New-York cavalry, deserves credit for its capture. Riding up to the locomotive, he discharged his pistol at the engineer, who instantly dropped. The train [356] was then backing at the rate of about five miles an hour, having not yet got under full head or back way. White immediately dismounted, sprang upon the locomotive, reversed the engine and brought the train to a point where it and its reight — except some rebel officers who were on board — could be destroyed. The ammunition was effectually destroyed and the locomotive essentially smashed. They also captured a rebel paymaster, with all his funds, some $50,000 in North-Carolina and South-Carolina notes. building, of similar dimensions,

The quartermaster's train captured consisted of eighteen six-mule teams, well loaded with stores and stuff, which, with the teams, were destroyed. The mules were taken, and negroes, who were ready and willing, standing by grinning, were given a chance for a free ride. The paymaster referred to was captured in the road, while on a tour distributing to families the allotment money appropriated by the State for their support. The money was placed in the hands of Lieutenant Gardner, of the Third cavalry, who acted as provost-marshal of the expedition.

After accomplishing all this destruction, and I do not know how much more, Major Jacobs returned to the main column, having made a march of ninety miles, and executed his important orders to the letter, within the brief space of twenty-four hours. Truly a maguificent day's work.

After Major Jacobs had started with his detachment to Rocky Mount, the main column (about five A. M.) commenced its march for Tarboro, where, report alleged, a large amount of rebel government stores was housed, some steamboats built, and some rams and other rebel deviltries under way. The town is an important ant one, and once the seat of considerable traffic and commerce. It is situated on Tar, or Tarr, River, ( “River of health” in the Indian tongue,) and is the terminus of a branch of the Weldon and Wilmington Railroad, running from the town of Wilson.

Our advance, Major Clarkson's detachment, reached Tarboro about nine A. M.; and, without waiting for any ceremony, Major C. dashed into the town, and drove the enemy's pickets (cavalry) across the bridge on a full run. The flying troopers were pursued until the danger of falling into an ambuscade was to be appre-hended. Indeed, such was the report at one time, accompanied by a rumor that Major Clarkson had lost severely, and had made a very narrow escape with his command. It afterward appeared, however, that the report was much exaggerated, and it is believed at headquarters had no foundation, in fact, so far as the ambuscade was concerned. Major Clarkson's loss during the entire expedition was but three officers (Captain Cyrus Church and his two lieutenants) and some fifteen or twenty men — all missing.

Without proceeding to give in detail the mode and manner by which the rebel property in Tarboro was destroyed, it may suffice to say that the amount was immense and consisted of--

1. Two steamboats, one a very fine one.

2. The framework of an iron-clad which has been in the course of construction for several months.

3. A number of iron rams or rebel devils.

4. Four cannon, with caissons and ammunition, which were thrown into the river.

5. A large building, two stories high and one hundred and fifty feet long, filled with commissary stores, such as bacon, flour, rice, sugar, etc., etc.

6. Another building, of similar dimensions, containing quartermaster's stores, such as camp equipage, wagons, harness, etc.

7. The railroad depot, consisting of two large brick buildings.

8. About six hundred bales of cotton.

9. The extensive bridge over the Tar River, the destruction of which was attended with probably more inconvenience and distress than any other event during the expedition.

The work of demolition in Tarboro was accomplished without much resistance, so sudden was our arrival, and so alert our movements. Major Cole's command did good work. A few inhabitants fired upon our men from windows; but that work stopped soon after a few summary examples were made. The enemy attempted to shell us from the other side of the river, but desisted as soon as they found they were doing more damage to their own property than they were to us, and also, probably, from the effects of the shells from Clark's howitzers.

Some infantry and cavalry also showed, themselves, and, the appearance gradually becoming more and more formidable, General Potter, as soon as Major Jacobs's command had rejoined the main column from its successful raid at Rocky Mount, ordered the line of march to be taken up on the return of the expedition, via Sparta.

The order to apply the torch to Tarboro bridge, so as to prevent the advance of the enemy from the opposite side upon our rear, was executed a little to soon. A large number of contrabands had just got over, many were still on the bridge, and many were yet on the other side, all eager to join our column and flee from their masters in Dixie to their worshippers among the Yankees. Some of our own men were also on the other side; but, with a few exceptions, they contrived to make their escape. When the burning bridge fell, it is feared it carried into the stream below, or consumed in the vain effort to extricate themselves, between five and six hundred poor frantic negroes.

No sooner had the enemy ascertained that we were retreating than they began to make a movement to cut us off, having been foiled in the rapid execution of their plan of advancing on our rear by the destruction of the bridge.

The rebels who had by this time been largely reenforced with cavalry, infantry, and artillery, having six pieces of the latter, followed our retreating column closely. Their force is under-stood to have been composed of Martin's brigade, consisting of the Seventeenth, forty-second, Fiftieth, and Sixty-third North-Carolina infantry; Whitford's battalion of rangers, and a part of [357] Nethercutt's battalion of rangers. The name of their artillery was not known; but it is certain it was handsomely handled, giving our four little pieces all the work they could conveniently do. Their object being to head us off, it was accomplished by nightfall at a point called Tyson's Creek. Here we found that the enemy had destroyed a bridge which we were obliged to cross if we kept on our present line of retreat, and had also planted artillery on the opposite bank, apparently determined to make a most obstinate resistance to our further progress. Taking advantage of the darkness, General Potter moved his column down the creek, and instead of going through Greenville, as the enemy might have supposed, took the Snowhill road, one that runs in a different direction. This adroit movement seemed to perplex the enemy for a little while; but in a short time, amid all the darkness, he was heard to approach, and the firing of his cannon told us that we had been betrayed by guides, who had proclaimed their loyalty to the Union and said they were ready to seal it with their lives.

The enemy kept on harassing our rear, occasionally doing a little execution, wounding a few men and killing a few horses, until we reached Street's Ferry, on the Neuse, with transports ready to carry our weary and worn-out bodies to Newbern. The expedition having been attended with such brilliant success, neither officers nor men uttered a word of complaint, almost dead as they were with fatigue and want of rest. The expedition had been absent about six days, and many of the officers and troopers avow that they have not slept five hours in all that time. It was hard, very hard work, and those brave hearts engaged in it are deserving the unqualified approbation of their countrymen.

Throwing aside the negro catastrophe, if it should even prove true, our losses have been meagre, considering the magnitude of the work accomplished. The Twelfth probably lost some twenty men missing and wounded, the Third nearly the same number. The losses of Graham's North-Carolinians, who behaved gallantly under their intrepid leader, and Mix's new regiment, as well as those of the artillery, which was on all occasions handsomely served, are inconsiderable, except those resulting from extreme fatigue and exposure to the blazing sun. The enemy's losses in men undoubtedly treble ours, although they had the advantage of selecting their positions in harassing our retreat. So confidently was it reported in Newbern that we were badly cut up that reinforcements were at one time ordered to hurry up to our relief. Colonel Jourdan's brigade of infantry approached as far as Swift Creek on the first day's march of the cavalry, as a support, but had returned to Newbern some time before the cavalry came back.

The aggregate amount of rebel property destroyed on the expedition cannot be less than five millions of dollars, while the value of mischief done to their facilities for railroad transportation on the Wilmington and Weldon road is incalculable. A pretty good week's work for the little but noble band of heroes who are serving their country en cheval in North-Carolina.

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Potter (14)
Jacobs (11)
Frederick Lewis (5)
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Amos H. Cole (2)
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Tarr (1)
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